Poor Texas. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. After two consecutive losses in the World Series and only one strike away from winning the title, the Rangers retool and make another push for baseball’s ultimate prize. The offense remains loaded and primed for another deep run into the playoffs. The pitching staff is talented, but unproven. With a couple lucky breaks, this Rangers team could finally deliver a World Series win. Let’s look at the five questions surrounding this teams’ fantasy potential this year:
5. Is Mike Napoli the best catcher in fantasy baseball?
When fantasy owners look at Mike Napoli’s stats, there is no doubt he is a special talent. He had limited at-bats, tallying only 369, but he compiled 30 home runs with a .320 average. Fantasy drafters are expecting an upcoming breakout, especially if he could get the extra at-bats. With news that he will fill in at first base only adds to the excitement that more at-bats are coming his way.
Let’s not get too excited though. Take a closer look at Napoli and we see a tale of two different players. Before the All-Star break, Napoli was a bomb. His 155 at-bats coupled with the .232 batting average were hard to stomach. His 12 home runs was the only consolation and only reason to leave him on your roster. Then post All-Star break, we saw Napoli become the bomb. His .383 average with 18 home runs created a buzz and eventually catapulted him to the number one catcher in 2012 fantasy drafts.
The reality lies somewhere in the middle. Throughout his career, Napoli has struggled for at-bats, but provided strong power numbers. He’s averaged 320 at-bats and 20 home runs per season during his six year career. But his batting average had never eclipsed .273 (career level at .264), yet we are supposed to believe he can sustain an average over .300? He provides power at a premium position, but you draft him first because of the elite average, which is not sustainable. Let someone else draft him first overall and deal with the batting average woes.
4. Will Josh Hamilton’s relapse have a negative impact on his game?
Josh Hamilton’s long and conflicted history of drug use has been well chronicled. He cost himself millions of dollars over his career because of his addictions and now we add the latest news to the saga. In February, his very public relapse made headlines across the sporting world and the first question in everyone’s mind is, “will he play well this year?”
Granted, this will be a huge distraction to himself and the rest of the team, especially if he struggles out of the gate. This relapse seemed to be an isolated incident, so if he can remain focused mentally on the game and sobriety, he should overcome it. Instead, the worry should be on the toll this addiction had on his body. To say Hamilton is injury prone is like saying the sun is bright.
As we approach the season, we see Hamilton already hobbling out of the gate. His heel injury has done nothing to calm the fear to those who are drafting him in third round. Those who say he’ll play a full season, or that his broken arm last season was a fluke are paying a premium on a player with an extreme injury risk. This is a player who has averaged 118 games per season in his career. When he plays, he’s one of the best in the game, posting elite power and on-base skills. But he continues to be an injury risk and couple that with this relapse distraction, it would be wise to wait a couple more rounds before you pull the trigger while those with their heads in the sand draft him too early.
3. Is Yu Darvish a fantasy ace this year?
Not much is known about this Japanese phenom. We can look at statistics from his Nippon League career, but it’s tough to compare that to the American game. Fantasy players have been burned by so many Japanese players attempting to transition to the American game. For every Ichiro, you have a five others to show that the transition isn’t always seamless.
But with no other gauge, we are forced to look at the Japanese League, and we like what we see: a 1.44 ERA, 276 strikeouts versus 36 walks, 19 wins, and a 0.83 WHIP. Then you look at his six foot – five inch build and realize this is no ordinary Japanese convert. At 25-years-old he is still young and raw and could potentially become the team’s ace as early as next year.
This year, however, is his transition year. This is when he becomes used to the American style of baseball. The power is more plentiful, the competition is higher quality and the language may become a crutch. While it’s unreasonable to expect the type of numbers he produced in Japan, the season won’t be a complete disaster either. An ERA in the high-threes, with a decent WHIP and around 190 strikeouts seems reasonable. Those in keeper leagues may pay a premium in order to secure him long term, since he has the potential to be lights out in the future.
2. Can the Rangers stay healthy this season?
Between Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre, they missed 124 games in 2011. If these hitters could stay healthy, imagine the damage they could inflict during a full season. While the Rangers’ line-up is potent, the potential is much greater if they could stay on the field.
Red Flags and sirens should go off with Nelson Cruz. Not only is he going to turn 32 this season, he also has suffered from a hamstring injury for the past two years causing him to miss significant time. It’s also no coincidence that his stolen bases have fallen off sharply due to the injury. With his inability to explode off the base, expect the stolen bases to stay in single digits. He should be viewed as a player who can provide power during limited time while providing strong RBIs and not kill your batting average.
Oh, the tease that Adrian Beltre provides. Despite missing 38 games last season, Beltre still managed 32 home runs and 105 RBIs. If you could imagine what a full season could have delivered, we might be discussing the top third baseman in the league. At 32-years-old, it’s hard to be optimistic that he’ll deliver a full season for the Rangers. Last year, he too was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Luckily, Beltre’s value does not depend on stolen bases.
This year, Ian Kinsler can go a long ways to redeeming his injury-prone status. He played in 155 last year and 144 games in 2009. If he could string a couple seasons together with minimal games lost, we could validate him as the top second baseman. This player could easily go 30/30 again, at a shallow position. He’ll turn 30 later in the season, so while the potential for growth is behind him, he could certainty return great value based on his second round draft selection.
1. Will the pitching staff have any breakouts this year?
Typically, Rangers Ballpark is thought of as a hitters’ park and predictably, fantasy owners tend to over-analyze whether to start or sit their pitchers in this intimidating park. But when your pitcher plays over half their games within Ranger’s park, something has to give. Outside the aforementioned Darvish, there are plenty of options for your fantasy roster residing in the ballpark in Arlington.
Colby Lewis is the expected Opening Day starter, yet he’s the third Rangers pitcher drafted, according to Mock Draft Central. In a perceived down year, he still gave owners a 1.21 WHIP and 169 strikeouts. His walk rate decreased, while his ERA ballooned to 4.40 due to an increased home run / fly ball ratio. The WHIP and strikeouts seems about right, but his home runs should shrink, making his ERA regress closer to his 2010 numbers.
Surprisingly, Derek Holland is the second pitcher off draft boards from Texas. The assumption is that this 26-year-old will progress based on his age, but use caution before you think a breakthrough is imminent. He jumped 75 innings from 2010 (including minor league pitching). If you don’t believe that increased workload could lead to injury, then feel free to get excited. His crutch is a poor WHIP, but he has shown great control throughout his minor league career, with massive improvements compared to the previous year. He could return great value compared to his draft position.
The 2010 Rookie of the Year, Neftali Feliz finds himself transitioning from elite closer to end-of-the-rotation pitcher. His entire major league career has been as a reliever, pitching no more than two innings at a time. His control starts to fall apart as he goes deeper into games, showing the batters’ ability to work the count against him after two to three appearances per game. The adjustment to manage games into five-seven innings will take a toll. His dominance will continue, so expect high strikeouts even though it will come with a high ERA and WHIP.